Upcoming CPUC Votes on Secrecy, Solar

By Published On: September 17, 2010

In the California Public Utilities Commission September 23 meeting, confidentiality and California Solar Initiative issues are up for votes. Regulators seek to limit the access of independent power generators who supply as little as 1 MW, to information perceived as impacting utility rates. Power suppliers compete for contracts with Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. The utilities push for more secrecy of their power purchase plan details on grounds it averts higher priced deals. Generators push back, seeking more access to agreements to allow them to fairly compete. They also assert that inhibiting their access to proposals interferes with their First Amendment rights. Restrictions on access to “market sensitive information,” according to CPUC member Dian Grueneich, the decision’s author, do not interfere with generators’ First Amendment rights. “Unequal access to information does not restrict a person’s right to assemble, to speak freely either in or outside of a Commission proceeding, or to bring an action to the Commission,” she wrote. The CPUC, which must sign off on the deals, is the guardian of the power agreements. The ruling is in response to legislation, SB 1488. That law directs the commission to ensure “meaningful public participation and open decision making.” Reviewers of market “sensitive information” could be a member or employee of an outside consulting firm that’s a market participant, as long as the firm has an “ethical wall” between the reviewing representative and the member or employees involved in energy marketing and related activity. The proposal also would adopt a model non-disclosure agreement to limit discovery in place of a protective order. The former does not require the filing of a motion in order for it to take effect. Another proposed decision would shift funds in the subsidized program seeking to grow distributed solar rooftop installations in the state. It is expected to continue funding for the California Solar Initiative by keeping the utilities feet to the fire to ensure the program’s $2.2 billion budget is not exceeded. The decision shifts $40 million from utility administrative expenses to actual solar incentives. The transfer would increase the incentive budget to $1.747 billion if approved by the panel. The accounting change is expected to lead to more solar installations. “In order to continue to reward solar system performance, the Commission should not reduce [performance based incentive] payments at this time,” noted the proposed decision.

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